November’s Science Pub: Viking Mars Missions

marsThe illustrious Mars Viking missions are the topic of this November’s Science Pub. Speakers from the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project will be sharing their own experiences as well as discussing the Viking missions’ heritage and their impacts on engineering, science, and culture. Join project founder and executive director Rachel Tillman along with project volunteers Pat Demartine, Al Treder, and Peggy Newcomb for a history of the future.

As the first American spacecraft to land safely on the surface of Mars, the Viking 1 Lander snapped that famous first photo of its foot—then set out across a rusty horizon foreign to humankind. Viking 1 and 2 were launched less than a month apart late in the summer of 1975. Each was carried into orbit atop a Titan III-Centaur rocket—the same two-stage launch system that helped toss Voyager 1 and 2 out of our solar system.

The two Viking orbiter-lander spacecraft pairs took less than a year to reach the red planet. Once there, they looked for a reasonably boring spot to land. Both landers separated from their orbiter partners, entered the atmosphere, deployed parachutes, and successfully guided themselves to the surface with hydrazine-powered thrusters designed not to disturb so much as a single Martian microbe on their landing spots—in 1976.

The Viking missions sent back more than just pictures. On-board instruments allowed NASA scientists to explore Mars for signs of life as well as learn about Mars’ landscape and atmosphere. Lucky for us, the landers’ radioisotope thermoelectric generators lasted much longer than the 90 days for which they had originally been designed. The final transmission from the Viking 1 lander was received in November of 1982; the Viking 2 lander ceased transmitting in April of 1980.

There was just one other flight-ready Viking lander ever built, and it was saved from the recycling bin by then 11-year-old Rachel Tillman. The last of the three-legged beasts, as Carl Sagan described them, along with other materials collected and preserved by the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project are now available to the public.

Old World Deli hosts Science Pub at 341 2nd Street downtown on the second Monday of most months. It is sponsored by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Downtown Corvallis Association, and OSU’s Terra magazine.

For more information about Science Pub, stop by For more about the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project, visit their website at

By Matthew Hunt